Today it gives me great pleasure to be joining the blog tour for A Cold Flame by Aidan Conway. I really enjoyed the first book in the series A Known Evil and I’m delighted to be able to share an exclusive extract from book two with you all today. My thanks to Finn Cotton at Harper Fiction for inviting me to join the tour. Here’s the important book bits:
About the Book
Play with fire and you get burned…
A gripping crime thriller, from a new star in British crime fiction. Perfect for fans of Ian Rankin.
Five men burnt alive.
In the crippling heat of August in Rome, a flat goes up in flames, the doors sealed from the outside. Five illegal immigrants are trapped and burnt alive – their charred bodies barely distinguishable amidst the debris.
One man cut into pieces.
When Detective Inspectors Rossi and Carrara begin to investigate, a terror organisation shakes the city to its foundations. Then a priest is found murdered and mutilated post-mortem – his injuries almost satanic in their ferocity.
One city on the edge of ruin.
Rome is hurtling towards disaster. A horrifying pattern of violence is beginning to emerge, with a ruthless killer overseeing its design. But can Rossi and Carrara stop him before all those in his path are reduced to ashes?
A Cold Flame
The few flowers left in the chipped vase had withered to dry brown stalks in the searing August sun.
“You’re still sure this falls within our brief?” said Carrara as they stared at the cold, charred remains of the ground floor flat. All the bodies had now been removed but their presence lingered.
“It’s another fire, isn’t it?” said Rossi. “Probably arson. Why not?”
It was not the first fire in the city to bear the hallmarks of foul play, but it was the first fatal one since they had been moved off their normal duties.
They were standing in the welcome shade of the elevated section of the tangenziale flyover, on a side street off the busy, grimy Via Prenestina. It was hot, cripplingly hot. Thin rivulets of sweat were meandering down Rossi’s neck despite the shade.
“Even if there’s a file on this one already?” said Carrara. “A file that’s as good as closed.” Rossi shook his head and continued to gaze into the blackened ruins. “It’s August. You can get away with murder in August. Who was on it again?” Carrara leafed through the case notes.
“No one I know. A guy called Lallana. Had a racial homicide’s brief. Seconded to us in June and then transferred out again, at his own request, now buzzing all over the place with Europol. I got hold of him by phone but he wasn’t keen on talking. Says it’s all in the reports and he’s got nothing more to add.”
“Giving you the brush-off?” Carrara shrugged. “He had it down as a hate crime – seems the victims were all foreigners – but not a single,
solid lead. No witnesses, just the one guy who survived it.”
“A survivor?” said Rossi.
“Was. Dead now. Had 60 per cent burns. Should have been long gone but somehow hung on for nearly a week.”
“And all while I was on holiday,” said Rossi.
“You can’t be everywhere, Mick,” said Carrara glancing up from the notes. “I mean a break was merited, after Marini.”
Rossi’s thoughts turned then to the events of the previous winter but as his shoes crunched on the ash and scorched timbers he was still struggling to comprehend the present horror. Shooting, strangling, stabbing – that was one thing – but burning to death. They must have been locked inside when the fire started. Some might have woken but had been unable to get to a door or a window, the security grilles put there ostensibly to keep them safe from intruders thus consigning them to their fates.
“But why wasn’t anyone able to get out?” said Rossi. “Because they locked their room doors every night?”
“Correct,” said Carrara. “Normal practice in bedsits, but no keys for the security grilles were found, not even after a fingertip search.”
“What about the front door?” said Rossi. “Couldn’t they have got out with their own keys? They all had one, right?”
Carrara took out a blown-up scene-of-crime photo.
“The lock. Tampered with, the barrel and mechanism all mangled up. Some debris was found inside. It could have been someone forcing it – an attempted break-in – or it could have been sabotage. The occupants might have been able to open it from the inside to escape, if they had managed to reach the door, but the bolts were still in place. Nobody could get in until the fire guys arrived and then it was too late.”
“And their forensics?” said Rossi.
“Well,” said Carrara, “significant traces of ethanol – one version of the facts is that there was a moonshine vodka operation – and they did find the remains of a timer switch next to the burnt-out fridge. Lallana maintained it could have been foul play, or just as easily some home brew electrical set-up that shorted. He didn’t exactly go all out for the former theory. In the absence of a clear motive and witnesses the coroner delivered an open verdict. Have a look for yourself.”
Carrara handed Rossi the relevant report.
“Open?” said Rossi noting now with near contempt the irony. “Someone locked those poor bastards inside.”
“Like I said, no keys for the window bars were found but no one lived long enough to tell any tale.”
Among the scorched masonry and fallen timbers, one of the grilles lay across the small desert of debris, like the ribcage of a once living and breathing being strewn across a bleak savannah.
“Any names?” said Rossi.
“Just the one,” said Carrara. “The tough nut. Ivan Yovoshenko. He was found in the communal bathroom and had dog tags from his conscription days. But for them he would have been a zero like the rest. It seems he had at least tried to get out, got severely burnt in the process and maybe finally sought refuge in the bathroom. He could have struck his head and collapsed. Judging from the amount of alcohol they found in his bloodstream, he had to have been blind drunk and wouldn’t have realized just how hot the flames were. It was enough for him to survive as long as he did.”
“And nothing on the others?” “Nothing,” said Carrara.
“Well, they can forget checking dental records,” said Rossi. “These guys could probably just about afford toothpaste.”
Carrara pulled out another sheet for Rossi.
“Presumed missing persons in Rome and Lazio for the last six months, but no matches with this address. The word on the street is that they were five single men, probably illegals, but anymore than that …”
“Sounds familiar,” said Rossi. “But no friends, no workmates?” Carrara gestured to the desiccated blooms and a brown, dog-eared farewell note or two. “Paid their respects then made themselves scarce, I suppose,” said Carrara. “If it’s a racial hate killing they were probably thinking ‘who’s next’?”
“But a landlord?” said Rossi, sensing an opening. “Tell me we have an owner’s name.”
But Carrara was already quashing that hope with another printout from the case folder. “Flat sold to a consortium two months ago as part of a portfolio of properties, a sort of going concern with cash-in-hand rents through an established ‘agent’ who hasn’t been seen since the fire.”
“That’s convenient,” quipped Rossi. “Says here they always sent an office bod to pick up the cash in a nearby bar and the go-between got his room cheap as well as his cut. No contracts. No paper trail. No nothing.” “And no name for the agent?” “Mohammed. Maybe.” “That narrows it down. And the bar? Anyone there remember him’?”
“Nada.” “A description?” “North African. About fifty.”
“Great,” said Rossi. “Well, it looks like the late Ivan’s our only man, doesn’t it? Let’s see what the hospital can give us.”
“And then a trip to the morgue?”
“You know, Gigi, I was almost beginning to miss going there.”
What a great opening huh? I can’t wait to get stuck into the rest of it. If you’d like a copy of the book for yourself then it is available from the following retailers.
About the Author
Aidan Conway was born in Birmingham and has been living in Italy since 2001. He has been a bookseller, a proofreader, a language consultant, as well as a freelance teacher, translator, and editor for the United Nations FAO. He is currently an assistant university lecturer in Rome, where he lives with his family. A Known Evil is his first novel.
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